In Oregon Illegal Immigrant Referendum, a Warning for Obama
Little noticed after the midterm vote, which saw the GOP take control of the Senate and increase their majority in the House, was a referendum in sky blue Oregon to repeal the law that granted illegal immigrants the right to obtain a driver's license.
Even though the Democrats increased their majority in the state legislature and a Democratic governor was reelected, the measure for repeal passed by a 2-1 margin.
This is a stark warning to President Obama and the Democrats that if he acts alone to amnesty 5 million illegals, his march to irrelevancy will be complete, and the party he leads could pay an awful price in 2016.
The state law had seemed to be popular. It easily passed last year with bipartisan support in the Democratic-controlled Legislature and was signed Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, who was re-elected Nov. 4.
Opponents barely gathered enough signatures to put the repeal question on the ballot. Immigrant rights groups outspent their opponents 10-1.
Still, the measure failed in every county but the state's most liberal one, Multnomah, home to Portland. Even there it trailed significantly behind other Democratic candidates and causes.
"It was really the epitome of a grassroots effort," said Cynthia Kendoll, one of the activists who led the campaign against licenses. "There's such a disconnect between what people really want and what's happening."
Obama made his postelection pledge on immigration despite the drubbing that Democrats took across the country. He said he had to act because Congress has deadlocked on immigration for years.
A bipartisan Senate bill to provide citizenship to many of the 11 million people in the U.S. illegally died in the Republican-controlled House, and with the GOP now holding a majority in the Senate, many believe it is unlikely any broad immigration measure could make it to Obama before the end of his term.
Allowing immigrants in the U.S. illegally to remain in the country generally polls well. Even 57 percent of the conservative-leaning national electorate that voted Nov. 4 favors legalization, according to exit polling for the Associated Press and other news organizations.
Immigration has been seen as a winning issue for Democrats because Hispanic and Asian populations account for an increasing share of the electorate, especially in presidential years.
Eleven other states have granted driver's licenses to people in the U.S. illegally, and 17 allow them to pay in-state tuition at public universities.
But Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., which advocates more restrictions on immigration, says voters often are befuddled by complex immigration proposals and polling questions, overstating the actual support for an immigration overhaul.
The Oregon vote, he said, is proof of that.
"Whenever the public gets that sort of clear-cut, black-and-white issue for tougher controls — even in Oregon, when they're legalizing dope — they support them," Krikorian said. "It really highlights how this issue is not a Republican-liberal issue like, say, taxes and abortion, but an up-down issue, elites versus the public."
Krikorian is right. If you look at this most recent Pew Poll on illegal immigrants, you might be surprised to see 71% supporting granting illegal aliens legal status. But the caveat "if certain requirements are met" is the kicker.
This Pew Poll from late last summer approaches the question a little differently:
The national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted August 20-24 among 1,501 adults, finds that 33% say the priority should be on better border security and tougher enforcement of immigration laws, while 23% prioritize creating a way for people in the U.S. illegally to become citizens if they meet certain conditions. About four-in-ten (41%) say both should be given equal priority.
These priorities have changed since Feb. 2013, early in Obama’s second term. The share saying that both approaches should be given equal priority has fallen from 47% to 41%. Over the same period, the percentage prioritizing enhanced border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws has risen eight points, from 25% to 33%. There has been little change in the percentage saying the priority should be creating a path to citizenship for people in the U.S. illegally (25% in Feb. 2013, 23% today).
If you give the voter the choice between legalization or border enforcement, legalization loses. Most of those "certain requirements" that have to be met before legalization occurs have to do with securing the border first. When the voter is confronted with an "either/or" proposition, they choose border enforcement going away.
One poll taken recently shows that 74% of Americans want the president to work with Congress rather than acting alone on immigration. What will be the reaction to the president's unilateral amnesty plan? It's likely that even some members of his own party will scurry for cover while the people punish the Democrats in 2016.